LOS ANGELES - After Thursday's National Women's Soccer League draft wrapped up, I spent a few minutes chatting with North Carolina Courage president and general manager Curt Johnson.

For those of you who don't know, the Courage are the relocated Western New York Flash, which departed Rochester a few months after winning the 2016 NWSL title. They were bought by the owners of the North American Soccer League's North Carolina FC. It's the first time that the owners of a men's team outside of MLS have also owned a NWSL team.

The Courage's roster doesn't have any big-name U.S. women's national team players, though it may have one in the making in 2016 NWSL Most Valuable Player Lynn Williams.

Unfortunately, the biggest news around the Courage right now isn't the spotlight on Williams, or fellow national team prospects Sam Mewis, Jaelene Hinkle or Ashley Hatch - the last of whom was the team's first draft pick this year.

The top headline also isn't the team's move from one historic soccer hotbed in Rochester to another in the Raleigh-Durham triangle; or the transition from longtime owner Joe Sahlen to the impressive new money of Stephen Malik.

Instead, the biggest talking point is the Courage's sudden arrival in the maelstrom over the North Carolina state law that enforces discriminatory measures on transgender citizens and other minority groups. You may know it as HB2, or as the "bathroom bill," since one of the bill's signature provisions requires transgender people to use facilities of the sex on their birth certificate.

You may also know that in recent months, sports organizations have moved events out of North Carolina as a response to the bill. Marquee events that have been pulled from the state include this year's NBA All-Star Game, last fall's NCAA women's soccer College Cup, and numerous upcoming men's basketball tournament games.

Now here's a sports league that is willing to plant its flag in North Carolina, even though many of its fans - and some of its players - are discriminated against by the bill. That has generated a lot of soul-searching in the women's soccer community, including among NWSL power-brokers.

In recent days, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush has made it clear that he personally and the league collectively intend to help fight to get the bill overturned.

So I had to start my conversation with Johnson by asking for his perspective. He did not hold back in his response.

From there, we went on to a range of other questions about his team, including plenty about matters on the field. Here's a transcript.

The political and social dynamics in the Triangle are more liberal than much of the rest of North Carolina, and many residents in the Triangle are strongly against HB2. But many outsiders don't see that, because national perceptions of states often cover states as a whole, not just regions.

So there are some NWSL fans out there who might want to travel to support their teams, but have said loudly on social media that they won't set foot in North Carolina until HB2 is repealed. What would you say to them?

I think what I would say is, the North Carolina Football Club - and before that, the Carolina Railhawks [the team's old name] - are firmly focused and very clear on who we are. And who we are is a very inclusive organization, a diverse organization, a welcoming organization. So now we've added a women's team, North Carolina Courage, which we're thrilled about.

And I think what folks will see in our organization, as well as the state, is the vast, vast majority of people - this was not a voted [by referendum] legislation. So this is not something that the people sought. Many of us are working very hard to support what's right about North Carolina, and an inclusive state, a diverse state. And we want that bill repealed, is the honest answer.

Where do you see both soccer teams, especially the Courage, fitting into the landscape of sports in North Carolina? You have the massive college basketball fan bases of UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest, plus a pro hockey team in Raleigh in the NHL's Hurricanes. And the two big teams in Charlotte, the NFL's Panthers and the NBA's Hornets, have statewide appeal. So where are you?

I see professional soccer taking its place as the fifth major sport in North Carolina. Obviously we have long-standing [support for] football, basketball, [minor league] baseball and most recently hockey. But we are, and I think will be even more in the future, the fifth major sport.

We're not trying to take over any other sport. All those other sports are going to continue to thrive and grow and be very popular. But we have a 40-plus-year history now of soccer at the grassroots level, which has spawned great college soccer. And we've been on the world stage with our women's soccer [in previous leagues], and our female players [who've gone from UNC to the national team].

The long story short is, we're a fast-growing state, a large state, and soccer is very popular. This North Carolina Football Club helps to really galvanize the state and the power of soccer in our state.

The Courage's roster is s loaded with talent and won the NWSL championship last season, but there's no top-of-the-marquee U.S. national team superstar. Is that something that you want to change, or might it not be necessary to get attention in your market?

Well, I think really good soccer, obviously, is important - and it's fantastic to get the champions. We're appreciative of all the work that the Sahlen family has put in, and that championship season last season. It's a talented roster.

What we've prided ourself in on the men's side is: yes, we want to win, but we also want to play in a way that puts people on the edge of their seats. Clearly, this team puts people on the edge of their seats, and the players we've added today [in the draft] will continue to do that.

So, it's winning. If the opportunity comes to get one of the more known national team players, certainly we'd look at that. On the other hand, maybe we're cultivating some of those players right now.

Is there overlap between the fan bases of the men's and women's teams in the Triangle? Are there people who see it as soccer no matter who plays it, or people who will only support one team or the other?

I think both things will happen. I think there will be overlap - there are many people who go to a UNC or a Duke or a N.C. State women's college game that in the past have watched RailHawks games. So there will be some overlap.

But I think what we've seen in other markets in the NWSL is that we also need those that are just passionately involved with the women's game. We welcome them, and I'm sure that there are a lot of those folks as well.

Your stadium, WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., seats 10,000 fans. Your organization has made no secret of wanting to join MLS some day, and is looking into building a new stadium should you get an expansion franchise. For the time being, though, is the capacity of WakeMed what you want it to be?

I think WakeMed Soccer Park is a fantastic facility for the NWSL in 2017, and we're going to work really hard to sell it out. We've got 10,000 seats, six suites, two open-air party decks, a great environment for tailgating, and all that. So in 2017, WakeMed will be a great facility not only for game day, but also the day-to-day training environment of our players and our coaches.

We're very serious about our Major League Soccer bid and application, and are working very hard to get a more modern, larger stadium.

Where in the Triangle region do you think that would be?

We've got a number of different locations that we're working on. That's one of the reasons why Steve Malik, our owner, was not able to be here [at the NWSL draft]. He had some previously scheduled meetings around the stadium development project.

The town of Cary, where we are, is very interested. A couple of different spots in Raleigh. We've also got municipalities outside of Raleigh and Cary that are interested. It's a bear, this process. It's one of the hardest things to do in sports, get a stadium built. We're fortunate that there's a lot of enthusiasm right now for our bid, and also for the NWSL and the North Carolina Courage.

Paul Riley was here as part of the Courage technical staff after coaching the Flash last season, but he isn't officially your team's head coach right now. Do you think he'll continue with the Courage?

I sure hope so. Paul and I have known each other for about 20 years, back to the Long Island Rough Riders days when I was at the Richmond Kickers [both teams played in the A-League in the late 1990s]. I've always admired his work. He's been successful wherever he's gone - obviously, a championship-winning coach last season.

The time has been tight in order to get a deal done, but I anticipate that we'll be able to do that here shortly.

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